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CCST 9022 Final Report

Comparative Analysis of Professional and Amateur Science Reporting

The title of the scientific journal I have chosen is “Loci associated with skin

pigmentation identified in African populations” published in Science, and was subsequently

reported in The New York Times (NYT) titled “Genes for Skin Color Rebut Dated Notions of

Race, Researchers Say” as well as in ScienceDaily (SD) under the name “Genes responsible

for diversity of human skin colors identified”. The study identifies genetic variants giving rise

to the spectrum of human skin color and enhances understanding regarding genetic disease risk

factors. The introduction of this responsible gene resolves doubts and clarifies the concept of

evolution employed in explaining the variation of skin color.

In this essay, I will examine and compare the distinctive styles of reporting, namely

SD’s skillful and intellectually informative reporting targeting at science literate readers, and

NYT’s simplified, engaging reporting targeting at laymen readers. I argue that both styles are

crucial in showing varied facets in which original science could be presented. While

professional reporting offers an in-depth understanding to the scientific study, amateur

reporting constructs a short-cut to getting in touch with significant science findings.

Firstly, titles of the two articles foretell the focus of the news report and determine the

scope of readers. Although both articles are reporting the same science journal regarding genes

for skin color, NYT’s title sheds light to the concept of “race”, supplementing a flavor of social

ideology to pique the interest of readers. This contrasts with the plain and straightforward title

of SD’s, which directly points out the central idea of the science journal, and very much akin

to its original title. By comparison, it is observable that the technique used by NYT journalist

to attract readers who have little interest and knowledge in science to invest a portion of their
time is by revealing the implication of the study upfront. By introducing the notion of race,

the news report would appear to be more relevant to the readers, mitigating the far-fetched

impression of the word “gene”, which would appear foreign to many.

This proposition is echoed by the choice of introductory photo under the title and the

photo caption each article uses. Figure 1 (shown below) adopted by NYT emphasizes on the

idea of human diversity, aligning itself to what the title advocates. Figure 2, contrastingly,

shows a Mursi woman whose African ancestry’s mutations is found to be associated with both

light and dark pigmentation by the researcher, which again, relates directly to the study.

Aesthetically, Figure 1 is more well-arranged and eye-catching, in which the theme of diversity

stands out apparent; Figure 2, on the other hand, has no discernible feature about race, and if

the picture has to be looked at alone, the specificity of the woman’s identity would be reduced

to randomness, meaning that the context of the study gives life and meaning to the picture.

Indeed, the extreme distinctiveness of the two depictions makes it hard to tell that they are

actually used to introduce the same study. Yet, if we are aware of the unparalleled approaches

the two reports adopt, it is not difficult to understand the difference.

Figure 1 Captioned introductory photo shown in NYT Figure 2 Captioned introductory photo shown in SD
A critique about the NYT’s approach would be the danger of side-tracking the readers

from the central finding of the study. The re-definition of biological race is not the aim of the

research, nor is it the main significance of the study. Instead, the researchers are interested in

the genetic factor of skin color variation among the African population, which may be

interpreted independent from the idea of race. However, by opening the article with an

interview dialogue with a co-author showing people tend to distinguish race by skin color, it

ties the research to the notion of race in the mind of the readers when it has slight relationship.

On the other hand, SD only brings out the idea of race at the second last two paragraphs as a

conclusion to article. This allows readers to stay focused on the scientific finding of the

research and remain uninterrupted from less relevant materials. Therefore, the title and picture

is suggestive of NYT’s compromising style of writing, which is common in commercial

journalism, where accuracy would be weighed down by the threshold and relevance of the

report.

Secondly, the length of the article reflects the coverage of the study. By measurement,

SD is nearly 1000 words longer than NYT. It could be deduced from this number that NYT’s

account is more concise and brief than that of SD. Indeed, an analysis of the respective content

would find out that SD’s wordy and long paragraphs include details like the arguments about

the role of evolution, methodology of the current study, the function of each specified gene and

the process of trial and error, etc. Contrastingly, each paragraph is short and concise in NYT,

with approximately two to three sentences long. Short sentences help to maintain interest and

encourage readers to complete the reading. In my opinion, NYT is a story-telling narrative that

starts with piquing the curiosity of readers by drawing correlation with race, an aged concept
that is hardly disputed, and then goes on to illustrate how the finding shows that “the old color

lines are essentially meaningless”, thus increasing the sense of revolution in the otherwise

monotonous scientific discovery.

Despite the length, both articles do not include non-contributor-expert’s opinions,

which lowers the comprehensiveness of the article. In NYT, however, the editor introduced

another recent study published by other researchers on British population carrying

Neanderthals variants. Yet, little added value could be attributed to the richness of the article

by simply adding a relevant research without corresponding comments. Nonetheless, it is also

arguable that the fact that the original report must have gone through strict peer-review process

before being published in Science already guarantees credibility of the report.

Finally, the application or substitution of jargon also differentiates the two styles. In

SD, jargons are uncompromisingly applied, thus limiting the scope of readers. Yet, it is trite

that an explanation for specific terms are provided. For instance, when distinguishing between

pigmentation genes, the term “melanosomes” was defined as “the organelle where melanin is

produced”. Notably, some basic scientific terms are used to explain an advanced term. This

might not help with a layman reader’s understanding to the article, but rather confuses them

further. Therefore, it once again illustrates it is the scientifically informed readers that the

article is targeting at.

Less jargons are used to convey the message of the finding. Even if there is, a more

accommodating definition is provided. A comparable point is the explanation of

“melanosomes”, which reads: “Special cells in the skin contain pouches, called melanosomes,

packed with pigment molecules. The more pigment, the darker the skin.” The label of “pigment
molecules” replaces the difficult word “melanin” that SD uses. This substitution of jargon with

a general term is advantageous to mainstream public whose scientific knowledge is in deficit.

This also creates no gap in delivering the meaning of the study, savoring the essence of the

message. Therefore, the application or substitution of jargon is a remarkable contrast of an

advanced, profession article and an amateur reading of original science.

To conclude, the essay establishes several comparisons between a professional and

amateur science reporting. In the former style, the title tends to be more focused relevant to the

central finding of the research, the content is more length as it includes more details of the

original science, and it uncompromisingly applies jargons. On the other hand, the latter one is

prone to revealing the implication of the study in its title, the content is more concise and

jargons are substituted by general terms. The argument that both approaches are essential is

proved as it appeals to different type of audience, both of which enriches the understanding

and interest of readers to the complication of science. Nonetheless, there are still area of

improvement in their delivery of an accurate and comprehensive result of the original science.

(1348 words)
References

The New York Times, 'Genes For Skin Color Rebut Dated Notions Of Race, Researchers
Say' (2017) <https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/12/science/skin-color-race.html> accessed 1
December 2017

ScienceDaily, 'Genes Responsible For Diversity Of Human Skin Colors Identified' (2017)
<https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171012143324.htm> accessed 1 December
2017

Crawford N and others, 'Loci Associated With Skin Pigmentation Identified In African
Populations' (2017) 358 Science